With its spectacular body of blue water framed by enormous emerald hills, Deep Cove is one of those spots that's just as pretty after dozens of visits as it was on your first encounter. The sublime surroundings make you want to stay for hours; even better if you can sip a crisp Pinot Gris while sighing over the scenery. The Arms Reach Bistro is a perfect place to do so.
Opened earlier this summer by Alistair Knox and his business partner and chef, Erick Kauko, the restaurant is a quintessential West Coast mix of casual and elegant. Its small lounge is the ultimate in cozy, with oversize chocolate-leather sofas, a dark bookshelf holding bottles of wine, and a long antique wooden bench facing four old-fashioned elementary-school desks, the ones where you slide in under the writing tablet.
The walls are painted a rusty terra cotta, and sconces emit soft lighting; enormous 12-pane windows open up to all those Douglas firs. Even customers seem suitably relaxed yet discerning. This is a crowd of food-loving folks in flip-flops who, after renting kayaks for the afternoon, want to indulge.
The stereo plays hip music by the likes of Coldplay, although on this hot and sunny Friday evening it was hard to hear anything given the volume of surrounding chatter and the hoots of some tipsy guests on the bistro's large patio. On a busy night, this isn't the bistro to be in if you're hoping for an intimate conversation or hosting your hard-of-hearing parents. Drop by on a misty day, though, and this is likely a romantic's dream.
Menu selections are limited–just six of each for mains, starters, and pasta or rice dishes, for instance–but all are tempting. The two soups are winners: a buttery carrot-and-ginger blend with cracked pepper and crí¨me fraí®che ($4) and a creamy chowder with sweet corn, Kennebec potatoes, and big chunks of halibut, salmon, tuna, and clams ($5).
Erick's Chosty Caesar ($7) is light on the dressing (and the croutons), but its flavour still bursts forth, some serious anchovies and garlic enlivening the crunchy greens. (Chosty, a call to the restaurant later revealed, is a term used frequently in Deep Cove to "describe something that's excellent".) A spicy marinara sauce is a perky accompaniment to flash-fried calamari ($8), and crostini slathered with a roasted-zucchini-and-feta ragout ($6) make for a hearty start. Like opening bands at a concert, though, the appetizers don't have the star quality of the headliners; the mains are what truly rock here.
Take the oven-roasted beef tenderloin. Wrapped in cherry wood--smoked bacon, this melt-in-your-mouth meat is cooked to perfection, every bite a little piece of carnivorous rapture. It brings to mind a special dinner mom would make (assuming your mother is a wickedly talented cook). Topped with a red-wine demiglaze, the dish ($25) comes with garlic-whipped potatoes, so tasty you could consume a whole plate and still want more, and grilled red pepper and asparagus, both succulent but still firm.
Altogether different but just as yummy is the curriedbutter chicken with ginger and garam masala in a tomato-y yogurt sauce ($12). Served on a thick mound of jasmine rice, it would impress Meena Pathak herself. The contrasting tastes and textures of cashews and cilantro give this meal even more vim. Of the remaining five pasta and rice dishes, the price maxes out at $14 for the lemon-zested spaghetti with tiger prawns and wine-cured chorizo.
Other mains include a Pacific cioppino, with halibut, mussels, clams, shrimp, and medium-rare tuna all poached in a fennel-and-tomato broth ($21); medallions of roasted pork tenderloin ($23) with a blueberry-mustard demiglaze; and baked wild salmon wrapped in phyllo pastry with goat cheese and arugula ($24).
To finish, Arms Reach offers four desserts, including a so-popular-it's-often-sold-out blueberry-and-caramel bread pudding ($6) and a Kona-coffee cheesecake topped with an espresso-chocolate sauce ($6). The crí¨me brí»lée ($6), with its skating rink--like top and orange-zest garnish, lacked somewhat in its Grand Marnier flavour.
Like the food, the wine selection isn't huge, but the smart list is full of quality options. Whites include the Sandhill VQA Pinot Gris and Wolf Blass Riesling; among the reds are Sumac Ridge Black Sage Cabernet Franc and Stone Cellars Merlot. And of course there is the ubiquitous "martini" list, with creative concoctions ($7) like the Apple Toffee, made with butter-ripple schnapps, blended Scotch, and apple liqueur; and the Guinness, which combines Tia Maria, St. Rémy brandy, and espresso.
You'd have to sip cocktails like these slowly. All the more reason to sit back and absorb the view. Dinner for two, with sparkling water to drink, came to $60 before tax and tip.
ARMS REACH BISTRO 4390 Gallant Avenue, North Vancouver; 604-929-7442. Open daily 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.